Every thinkful student has doubtless noticed that when he enters the office, or autograph department, of an American inn, a lithe and alert male person seizes his valise or traveling-bag with much earnestness. He then conveys it to some sequestered spot and does not again return. He is the porter of the hotel or inn. He may be a modest porter just starting out, or he may be a swollen and purse-proud porter with silver in his hair and also in his pocket.
I speak of the porter and his humble lot in order to show the average American boy who may read these lines that humor is not the only thing in America which yields large dividends on a very small capital. To be a porter does not require great genius, or education, or intellectual versatility; and yet, well attended to, the business is remunerative in the extreme and often brings excellent returns. It shows that any American boy who does faithfully and well the work assigned to him may become well-to-do and prosperous.
Recently I shook hands with a conductor on the Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, who is the president of a bank. There is a general impression in the public mind that conductors all die poor, but here is “Jerry,” as everybody calls him, a man of forty-five years of age, perhaps, with a long head of whiskers and the pleasant position of president of a bank. As he thoughtfully slams the doors from car to car, collecting fares on children who are no longer young and whose parents seek to conceal them under the seats, or as he goes from passenger to passenger sticking large blue checks in their new silk hats, and otherwise taking advantage of people, he is sustained and soothed by the blessed thought that he has done the best he could, and that some day when the summons comes to lay aside his loud-smelling lantern and make his last run, he will leave his dear ones provided for. Perhaps I ought to add that during all these years of Jerry’s prosperity the road has also managed to keep the wolf from the door. I mention it because it is so rare for the conductor and the road to make money at the same time.
I knew a conductor on the Union Pacific railroad, some years ago, who used to make a great deal of money, but he did not invest wisely, and so to-day is not the president of a bank. He made a great deal of money in one way or another while on his run, but the man with whom he was wont to play poker in the evening is now the president of the bank. The conductor is in the puree.
It was in Minneapolis that Mr. Cleveland was once injudicious. He and his wife were pained to read the following report of their conversation in the paper on the day after their visit to the flour city:
“Yes, I like the town pretty well, but the people, some of ’em, are too blamed fresh.”
“Do you think so, Grover? I thought they were very nice, indeed, but still I think I like St. Paul the best. It is so old and respectable.”
“Oh, yes, respectability is good enough in its place, but it can be overdone. I like Washington, where respectability is not made a hobby.”
“But are you not enjoying yourself here, honey?”
“No, I am not. To tell you the truth, I am very unhappy. I’m so scared for fear I’ll say something about the place that will be used against me by the St. Paul folks, that I most wish I was dead, and everybody wants to show me the new bridge and the waterworks, and speak of ‘our great and phenomenal growth,’ and show me the population statistics, and the school-house, and the Washburn residence, and Doc Ames and Ole Forgerson, and the saw-mill, and the boom, and then walk me up into the thirteenth story of a flour mill and pour corn meal down my back, and show me the wonderful increase of the city debt and the sewerage, and the West Hotel, and the glorious ozone and things here, that it makes me tired. And I have to look happy and shake hands and say it knocks St. Paul silly, while I don’t think so at all, and I wish I could do something besides be president for a couple of weeks, and quit lying almost entirely, except when I go a-fishing.”